Nature vs Nurture

by Laura

How do we become the people we are?  Are we born to be who we are? or are these things given us as part of the cultural milieu in which we are born and raised? These are ancient questions (the actual phrase, “nature vs nurture” goes back to 13th century France); questions which have plagued us for long, long years and are difficult to answer. Now, with DNA testing and genetic mapping, the argument is accelerating. But we still cannot be sure whether a penchant for thrill-seeking came from Mom or from living a life filled with adventurous activity.

Many studies have been done on two sets of folk:  twins, both identical and fraternal, and adoptees. The theory goes, that fraternal twins, reared under the same conditions, would be alike despite genetic differences. But when fraternal twins are separated at birth, which sometimes happens when they become adoptees, they still show the same striking similarities. These same results have also occurred in identical twins.

Then there is nurture, life within a specific environment. One’s genetic make-up cannot be discounted and we are learning how our specific genetic makeup influences us every day. Studies have shown that our sense of humour, for example, is cultural as well as familial. As an example, I did not grow up in a family that used sarcasm or enjoyed that kind of humour. So I don’t particularly care for it, although I am able to use it as I have learnt to do so as an adult. My Daughter who lives in China has found the most difficult cultural hurdle is learning another people’s humour and learning how to employ it successfully. She knew she had “made it” in Chinese life when she 1) understood her first joke in Chinese and b) told her first joke in Chinese…and got the appropriate response. My Daughter who speaks French had a similar experience when she lived in France, although, admittedly, France is a little closer to us, culturally, than China is.

BTW…is their language acquisition ability genetic?!? Could be. Their Dad learnt Russian. I learnt several languages so I could sing them intelligently, although I am hardly a linguist. Hmmm…

It often happens that when an adoptee finds their birth families, there are many physical characteristics that are recognisable:  eye colour, mannerisms, certain pre-dispositions in health. But attitudes and familial cultures are pretty much given us by growing up in a specific environment. A family that loves books is going to pass on a love of reading. A family that enjoys football and has been getting together for generations to watch The Game, will  pass that on. Studies done with adoptees have borne this out. Many, many adoptees will find it difficult to “fit in” to their birth families because of the differences in nurturing they experienced compared to their birth siblings…for weal or for woe. One may look like so-and-so, but may be very different in many ways in how one thinks, what one believes, and the things one does…and doesn’t do.

And in what one finds funny.